Panasonic's Company Car: A Tesla Model S

By · September 18, 2013

Panasonic's Tesla Model S

Jeff Howell of Panasonic with the "company car" Model S. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I have had exactly two opportunities to drive the Tesla Model S, and both of them were in New Jersey. The Model S I drove Tuesday, in Newark, is the company car of Tesla’s battery supplier, Panasonic, and it was a showpiece on display when the electronics giant unveiled its new LEED-certified office building here.

Experience Behind the Wheel

Panasonic makes the Tesla available for employee drives, a process sure to increase their familiarity with electric cars, and make them more accepting of them in the marketplace. It’s the same basic process motorists get from electric car rentals, if and when they’re available. There’s a growing consensus that Americans will like EVs once they’ve had a chance to drive them, and the Panasonic experience is proving that to be true.

Chris Christie

Chris Christie talks about Panasonic. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Governor Chris Christie, a likely 2016 Republican Presidential contender, was a speaker at the building event, but he didn’t get to drive the Model S—I did. You won’t find a Tesla showroom in downtown Newark, but you will find a shiny black Model S, with “Powered by Panasonic” emblazoned on the sides.

The company car was the brainchild of Jeff Howell, president of Panasonic Industrial Devices Sales Company of America, which is the division that supplies Tesla with the 7,000 cells that go into each Model S battery pack. Tesla is also talking to other companies such as Samsung, but Panasonic is the only supplier now, and the company pledges to meet the cell demand, even if the EV maker is producing 40,000 cars by the end of next year.

Panasonic's Tesla Model S

Charging the Model S. It has 7,000 Panasonic cells. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Howell won’t go into detail about Panasonic’s relationship with Tesla, but he’s glad to talk about the in-house Model S. “It has a range of 300 miles, so employees can borrow it for a week and take it home,” he said. “Most of our folks live within 50 miles of the office, so there’s no problem.”

Want the Tesla? Get Nominated.

So who decides the car’s schedule? According to Dan Unger, a Panasonic spokesman who spent his own glorious week with the Model S, it’s done democratically—anyone can nominate a co-worker who’s taken the initiative to do something constructive for the company. It’s called “Random Acts of Collaboration.”

Unger is still in awe of the Tesla. “It’s a rocket, scary fast,” he said. He got stopped by the cops, not for speeding but because they wanted to know what kind of car he was driving. Other people asked him to talk to their wives—so they could get permission to buy one. “I really regret I had to return the car after a week,” Unger said.

Another winner, Jonathan Conti, described the car as “a truly amazing piece of technology. After driving it, I pulled up the Tesla website to find out how it works, and found that the car doesn’t have a traditional engine or transmission and only one gear. The fact it uses no gasoline and produces zero emissions is remarkable.” Marek Kwasnica described the Tesla as being “like old science-fiction stories coming to reality.”

Here's Howell on video, talking about how the Tesla ended up at company HQ:

Jeff Howell of Panasonic talking about the company's Tesla Model S.

After driving around with Unger for a while, I took the wheel for a 30-mile jaunt around industrial Newark. What can I say? It’s a rocket, it’s scary fast, it’s quiet, it’s got a million cool design touches, from those door handles to the button on the charging wand that pops open the fuel door. I want one. But I don’t work for Panasonic, so I guess I’d have to buy my own Model S.

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